Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Wisconsin's athletic board unanimously approved one-year contract extensions for four coaches on Friday, including one that might have surprised Badgers fans.
Head football coach Bret Bielema was among the fortunate four, as his contract was extended through Jan. 31, 2014.
The timing of the contract bump seems a bit odd after Wisconsin sloshed through a very disappointing 7-6 season capped by a 29-point loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. Bielema drew increasing criticism from fans this season and had some wondering whether his blistering start as Badgers coach was a fluke.
Though a one-year extension doesn't mean much and Bielema could be in trouble with another subpar season this coming fall, the move reaffirms the confidence Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez has in his hand-picked successor.
"All I can say is how the board voted," Alvarez said when asked if board members expressed concerns about the 7-6 finish. "It was a unanimous vote. There really weren't any questions about the recommendations."
Bielema's position looks pretty safe as long as Alvarez is his boss. Alvarez mentored Bielema during a difficult stretch this fall and saw growth in the 39-year-old coach as Wisconsin snapped a four-game losing streak to win four of its final five regular-season games.
"You've got to learn from this," Alvarez said of the 2008 season in sum. "You've got to learn a lot of things from this. One thing you learn is who your friends are. You find out who's with you, and who bails out."
Alvarez is still in Bielema's corner and wants to see the young coach continue to grow. Wisconsin loses several key seniors on both lines and at the linebacker spot, but the majority of the 2009 team will be Bielema's recruits. We'll find out a lot more about him this coming fall.